Be sure to secure your iPhone or Android Smartphone whenever you travel. Precautions will help prevent disaster.
The iPhone or any Android Smartphone is an essential tool when traveling to China for tourists of any country. Google maps, travel guides, language translation, and many other apps are extremely useful. We used them all the time. Using our American AT&T iPhone in China was tricky. Most Verizon iPhones 5 and older from the USA do not work internationally, since they use CDMA technology. Verizon does carry several “World Phones” which work with SIM Cards, check with them to see if your smartphone qualifies. We have done the research on our last trip and are sharing the findings with you.
We also have articles on using prepaid SIM cards in other countries:
- Using iPhones in Hong Kong
- Using iPhones in China
- Using iPhones in France
- Using iPhones in the UK
- Using iPhones in Japan
Be sure to read our restaurant reviews for China:
- Da Dong Roast Duck, Beijing
- Dong Hua Men Night Market, Beijing
- Jardin de Jade, Beijing, China
- Made in China, Beijing
- Other Beijing Restaurants Reviews
- Din Tai Fung, Shanghai, China
- Fu 1039, Shanghai, China
- Jardin de Jade, Shanghai, China
- Jia Jia Tang Bao, Shanghai, China
- South Beauty, Shanghai, China
- Yang’s Fry Dumpling, Shanghai, China
- Shanghai, China Restaurants
Here are some tips on using your iPhone in China
You can only use foreign SIM cards in an unlocked iPhone or Android Smartphone. A locked smartphone only works on the original cell phone carrier. Most cell phone carriers in the US, including AT&T, allow you to unlock Smartphones after your 2 year contract has been fulfilled. T-Mobile requires 18 months of payments before they will unlock a cell phone under contract. You can alternately purchase an unlocked Smartphone from Amazon, eBay, etc.
If you prefer to unlock your iPhone, you can try jailbreaking it. Jailbreaking and unlocking iPhones are not easy tasks. One slip and you may have bricked your expensive smartphone. You can buy an unlocked used iPhone from eBay or Craigslist. iPhone 5’s typically cost around $200.
This article also applies to using prepaid SIM Cards in the iPhone 6, 5s, 5c, 5, 4s, 4, and iPad with 4G or LTE. Android Smartphones utilizing GSM technology are also supported.
Different Smartphones use different sized SIM cards. Most foreign cell phone carriers sell smaller micro-SIM (iPhone 4, 4S, iPad) and nano-SIM (iPhone 5, 5s, 5c, iPad mini) for use in a variety of Smartphones. You should remove the SIM card from your phone before you attempt to purchase a prepaid SIM card in another country.
Unlocked iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from Sprint and Verizon have additional LTE bands that work at full LTE speed in China. Model A1549 (CDMA), A1522 (CDMA)
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile will not support full LTE speed, but will function at 3G speed. A1549 (GSM), A1522 (GSM)
Cellphone carriers in China
Each carrier ties a SIM card to a specific area. When calling or using data outside of this area, you maybe charged more. Try to buy a SIM for the region you intend to use it for. Recharge vouchers / top-up cards will only work for the area where they are sold. Add value before you travel to a new province.
China Unicom (中国联通)
China Unicom sells the iPhone in China and runs a high speed 4G network compatible with it. They run 3G on the 2100 Mhz band upto HSPA+ speed (max. 21.1 Mbit/s). and 4G/LTE on 1800 Mhz.
You can buy a prepaid SIM card with a monthly package ( Click on 套餐介绍 ) from 66¥ to 886¥. 3G Solutions has an english listing. Each includes a varying amount of data, texts, and minutes. We purchased a 156 plan that included 420 minutes and 500MB of data. Printout this chart and point to the plan you want.
3G Web Surfing Pass (3G 上网卡)
This data only SIM card is available for smartphones, tablets, Mi-Fi boxes etc.
- 3 GB, valid for 6 months: 3 GB national data: ¥ 300
- 6 GB, valid for 1 year: 6 GB national data: ¥ 600
The monthly boundaries are calendar based, so if you buy your China Unicom SIM on July 31 you would be charged the monthly fee. August 1 you would be charged the monthly fee again. If your timing is lucky, select China Unicom as your provider. These SIM cards lasts for six months. If you own a smartphone that needs a Micro-SIM, such as the iPhone 4, the store selling you the SIM card should snip it for you. iPhone 6 and 5’s require a nano SIM.
We suggest you purchase your China Unicom SIM card from one of their stores to ensure you do not get ripped off by a small vendor. We bought ours from the electronics store Gome. Have the store install it and activate it for you.
China Unicom SIMs automatically sets iPhone Data settings to:
GPRS APN: uninet
3G APN: 3gnet
Password: uninet (or empty)
HTTP proxy: 10.0.0.172
China Mobile (中国移动)
China Mobile SIM card package
This is the largest carrier in China, but we do not recommend using them. China Mobile supports does not support 3G/4G on the iPhone, only slower 2G or EDGE data transfers. They support 3G TD-SCMA which is a Chinese standard. Avoid buying this SIM for use on unlocked GSM phones.
Buy a China Mobile Prepaid SIM Card for ¥50 with ¥10 credit on it. Some will sell these SIM cards with lucky phone numbers for more.
Visit a China Mobile Retail Office, show your passport, and buy a data package.
There are 5 data packages you can activate:
¥20 for 150 MB using CMWAP or CMNET;
¥50 for 500 MB using CMWAP or CMNET;
¥100 for 2 GB using CMNET;
¥200 for 5 GB using CMNET;
¥500 for Unlimited CMNET (but not more than 15GB).
extra data: ¥0.01/KB.
We returned to China in 2015 and found different China Mobile stores wanted to sell us different data plans, so your results may vary.
Call 10086 to switch plans or
SMS with text to: BLGPRS at 10086 – will receive a list of choices.
Send SMS at number 10086 with text: KT20, KT50, KT100, KT200 or KT500 and it should automatically switch to a data plan.
Text CXGPRS at number 10086 – receive a stats on your data usage and limits.
Manually set these iPhone Data settings: (Settings – General – Network – Cellular Data Network)
APN: CMNET (use CMWAP for internal wap-sites inside China Mobile network only; ringtones, pictures, etc.).
Gateway Address: 10.0.0.172
These instructions should work for other smartphones including Android based smartphones that support US GSM networks from AT&T and T-Mobile.